Words have to convey the meaning we intend or they cease to work for us. So every now and then, we need to re-examine our words. For example, how is the word “Christian” working for you? I don’t even know what it means anymore. Listening to it from outside the Christian milieu, it sounds too much like the word “legalist” or, even worse, “hypocrite.” Used overseas in countries where the population is agnostic, it is an immediate turn-off for many, saying more about their perceptions of a bellicose American worldview or runaway consumerism than our faith. To them, the label “Christian” is a postmodern epithet.
In the view of many outside our evangelical culture:
- Christians tend to define their faith in terms of what they do (Bible studies, church attendance, etc.).
- Christians talk about love, but are insular in their lifestyles.
- Christians do cheesy things like singing “If you’re happy and you know it.”
- Christians tend to frown on parties and major on rules and traditions.
In the interest of engaging unbelievers rather than shutting them down, I’m trying to cut back on the Christianese in my vocabulary. When someone tries to pigeonhole me, I might say, “I’m someone who follows Jesus” or maybe I’ll use the phrase Jesus-follower, as in:
- J-Fs look at what Jesus said and did and make that a priority.
- J-Fs are aware of their own junk and don’t worry about yours.
- J-Fs are more interested in your actions than in what you say you believe.
- J-Fs are OK having a bad day and not trying to cover it up with a song.
Are there “Christian” words that don’t work for you anymore? My sense is that there are a whole slew of words that those outside the Christian subculture don’t get. Some of us need to clear our vocabularies of buzz words. Check out this blog for help: stufffchristianslike.
As we seek to communicate hope instead of exclusion, it might be helpful to take a closer look at the words we use and ask if they bring people closer to Jesus or if they shut people out. Evangelism starts with our language and language changes every generation whether we’re up for change or not.
*Some people like “Christ-followers,” but even that sounds a little too religious.